GWU chief spoke to OPM official days before protesting against Ramla development
A PERMIT for 30 new units at the Mellieha Holiday complex, which is co-owned by the General Workers’ Union, was awarded just weeks after the union’s president Saviour Sammut actively lobbied with the office of the Prime Minister to hasten planning procedures.
Sammut, who marched alongside environmentalists protesting against development at Ramla l-Hamra last week, confirmed he asked a senior government official to intercede with the Malta Environmental and Planning Authority on the union’s behalf to enquire why MEPA was procrastinating in getting the project approved. MaltaToday can reveal that Salvu Sammut contacted a senior official at the Office of the Prime Minister.
The outline permit for the 30 holiday units on a “special area of conservation” next to the Ghadira nature reserve, was approved without any fanfare by the MEPA board on 31 May, just days before the approval of 23 villas overlooking Ramla l-Hamra – which Saviour Sammut protested against during the protest held last week in Valletta.
“As a trade unionist, in order not to lose this opportunity to create
work in the country and because MEPA had been procrastinating on this project for five years, I felt that I should talk to someone in government to enquire on these delays,” Sammut told MaltaToday.
Sammut would not reveal the name of the government official involved.
Despite his claim that it took MEPA five years to deliberate on the permit, the case officer report shows that the first communication between the architect and MEPA on this project dates back to August 2005 – barely two years ago.
Sammut also confirmed that three years ago the union had spoken to the Prime Minister on the same project.
Together with the Danish DFF Malta Holdings Ltd, the General Workers Union is a shareholder in Mellieha Holiday Centre Ltd. Union president Saviour Sammut and general secretary Tony Zarb are listed as directors of the same company.
Sammut said he saw no contradiction protesting against the Ramla l-Hamra development while pushing for development in a special area of conservation. “There is no comparison between the Mellieha Holiday Complex and the historical value of Ramla l-Hamra. The Mellieha holiday complex has existed for 26 years and is barely visible from the street.”
Yet the original project replaced an existing military barracks which was demolished to make way for the bungalows. To create the landscaped gardens, a deal was struck in 1980 with BirdLife Malta (then MOS) to remove soil from the nature reserve at Ghadira in return for a hefty donation that would go towards replacing the former hunting reserve.
Referring to the Danish operators of the complex, also known as Danish Village, Sammut claims that “they have made the area better” and that every year they send a veterinary officer to take care of the cats in the area.
Sammut also insisted that unlike the Ramla l-Hamra development, the Mellieha development will “not involve the sale of villas for profit” – something excluded by the permit issued by MEPA for the villas overlooking Ramla Bay.
Apart from the fact that MEPA case officer Silvio Farrugia authored the reports for both projects, there are other striking parallels between the Ulysses Lodge development and the Mellieha development.
It emerges that both developers have asked government officials to enquire into MEPA’s delay to approve the two projects.
In the Mellieha case, the GWU had also asked for the intercession of an unnamed government official.
In both cases, despite the sensitivity of the areas involved, MEPA absolved the developers from performing an EIA, claiming that the information provided by the developers in the project development statement was sufficient.
MEPA justified its decision not to ask an EIA on the Mellieha development arguing that the proposed development was simply an extension to an already existing tourism complex. It also claimed that the new development lies within the confines of the complex.
The proposed development in Mellieha consists of 30 holiday units occupying an area of between 90 and 120 square metres each, consisting of a living area, a kitchen, a bedroom and a courtyard with a swimming pool.
The proposal covers two areas. The first area is located to the southern part of the existing complex, consisting of afforested land. The second area is located on the north of the present complex. According to the case officer report this area includes a “landscaped area between the existing bungalow area and a garigue area to the north of the complex.”
The MEPA directorate recommended the approval of the development claiming that design and layout of the units “will retain as many existing trees as possible and will also include additional landscaping to mitigate any potential impacts.”
According to the PDS presented by the developers a large proportion of the existing trees will not be affected, whilst additional planting will be proposed in order to further mitigate the potential visual impact of the buildings.
The case officer report claims that the bungalow units will be low-lying structures that can easily be screened by landscaping.
As in the case of the Ulysses Lodge redevelopment, MEPA claims that the mitigation measures proposed by the developers are enough to justify development in an outside development area within an ecologically sensitive area.